Visitors don’t take long to realise that the potato is one of the great Swedish dietary staples. Though the national diet is not as starchy as it once was, the humble tuber still plays an outsized role—but nowhere more so than the Bjäre peninsula (Bjärehalvön).
Bjäre has always been a place of potatoes, ever since they arrived in Europe. Due to its uniquely westerly position and climate, the first Swedish potatoes of the year’s crop are harvested here, then sold at auction, with the proceeds donated to charity. They host an annual potato festival with a potato-peeling contest. Bjäre’s regional mascot is a spud, which reflects the basic facts of the local economy. Potatoes are a big deal.
But therein lies a problem. Skåne’s weather patterns have grown increasingly volatile due to climate change: winters and autumns are milder and wetter, and springs and summers are drier and hotter, which has made the fate of the potato harvest more uncertain. Excessive moisture in storage facilities caused many potatoes to rot in 2027; drought and irrigation restrictions in 2032 decimated that year’s harvest; a freak pest in 2034 wiped out a whole half of the crop, and bankrupted many local businesses.
These were rough years for Bjäre. Ever since, the entire community sits on needles from the moment the spuds go into the ground in spring, up until the first crop is harvested in May. Uncertainty has become a way of life—and, to the delight of cultural anthropologists, the potato cycle has become a spiritual affair. Superstition is widespread—so if you see an old lady placing a small potato on the steps of Torekov church, don’t be alarmed! She skipped her weekly ritual in 34’ to watch Sweden beat Finland in floorball at the Olympics, and has blamed herself for that year’s potato blight ever since. Quirkiness aside, the uptake in spirituality has also affected the techniques used to care for the soil, and biodynamic practices that add a certain touch of the magical are known to be practiced by some of the region’s premier spudders.
While the potato uncertainty is arguably a source of suffering for the residents—not to mention a fundamental element of their identity—the celebration of a good potato harvest is a sight to behold! We would strongly recommend a trip to Bjäre in early May, when the harvest is nearing—but make sure to pack both a party dress and a funeral dress, you won’t know for sure what the vibe of the party is until the first spud leaves the ground. If you are lucky enough to be around for a real bonanza harvest, the celebratory potato feasts are known to be incredible; you’ll never think of spuds as boring starch again!